Ronak Faraj Raheem, Director of Women's Media and Education Center, which was one of the organisations that participated in the campaign for a ban on guns in homes in Iraq. Photo: Ester Sorri.
Despite massive protests from the Iraqi women’s movement, last year a law was passed, making it legal for Iraqis to keep weapons in their homes. But women’s organisations in northern Iraq won’t give up. Now they are advocating for politicians in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to enforce a ban.
“In our village, almost all men have weapons at home. Some show off their guns to gain respect” says a woman from a mountain village situated a couple of hours drive outside of Slemani in Iraqi Kurdistan.
She and a couple of other women have come to a house used for common gatherings. The help organisation Wadi is visiting to talk about women’s health, but the conversation undulates back and forth and touches on violence and the presence of weapons.
“What can we do? The men have all the power and can do whatever they want with us. I’m often afraid, my husband has threatened me with his gun. I have no choice, I have to do what he wants” says a young woman, throwing her hands in the air in a gesture of defeat.
Common with guns at home
Having a gun or any kind of light weapon at home is very common in Iraq. According to statistics from Gunpolicy.org, based on research from the Sydney University among others, an estimated 34 percent of Iraqis own a gun. There is also an extensive illegal arms trade in the country.
This development has caused strong reactions among women’s organisations. They are concerned that more accessible weapons will lead to an increase in the deadly violence against women. The women’s rights organisation Warvin has warned about the risks, stating that most Iraqi women who get killed, are shot.
When the Iraqi government a few years ago wanted to introduce a law allowing light weapons in homes, women’s organisations and concerned individuals joined forces in a counter campaign. The campaign called for a ban instead of a legalization and for the Iraqi government to gather all illegal weapons.
Despite the protests, in 2012 the new firearms legislation was introduced, making it legal for all individuals to own a gun and keep it at home. The only regulation is that it has to be registered with the police. At the same time the government urged all Iraqi households to keep a gun, to improve their safety.
“Question of mentality”
Women’s Media and Education Center, WMEC, participated in the campaign. However, the organisation’s director, Ronak Faraj Raheem, is not convinced that a ban on guns is the right way to go to prevent deadly violence against women. Mainly because she doensn’t see a direct link between firearms and honor killings.
“As an organisation, we are of course against keeping guns in homes. But I don’t believe that the act of killing someone is closer at hand just because it’s easier to get hold of a gun – first and foremost it’s a question of mentality. When it comes to defending family honour men use what’s avaliable; knives, strangulation, pistols. A gun in the home makes no bigger difference” she says.
Family honour important
In the Kurdistan region as well as throughout Iraq, family honour is an important issue and the social control is strong. A woman receiving a text message from an admirer or stating that she wants to choose her own partner, are reasons enough for her to be accused of bringing shame and dishonour upon her entire family. For this she may be punished by death and the act is often carried out by her father, husband, uncle or brother.
“We’re campaigning against weapons in the home, but more important still is that this mentality changes” says Ronak Faraj Raheem.
Lanja Abdulla, Warvin. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.
High hopes on a law
But Lanja Abdulla from Warvin has high hopes that a law banning guns in homes in Iraqi Kurdistan would reduce the deadly violence against women.
“Police officers, security personnel, members of political parties and ordinary people – everyone has a gun at home. Most killings of women are carried out with these weapons. If we got a ban, it would automatically reduce the number of women being killed” she says.
For example, with such a law, policemen and security agents would be forced to leave their weapons at work. According to Lanja Abdulla, that would make the men not being able to kill the women as easily in an aggressive domestic situation.
In the course of spring, Warvin has managed to get the five biggest political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan to support a law on firearms. Now, the organisation will start working on drafting a bill.
Annette Ulvenholm Wallqvist, freelance journalist
A serious threat to all people in Iraq – especially women! Iraqi women’s rights organization ASUDA is very critical of a recently adopted law, that allows all citizens of Iraq to keep a gun in their home.
When Saddam Hussein were in power in Iraq, people were encouraged to carry guns in support of the Ba’ath regime. The gun became a symbol of honour and loyalty. Now, nine years after the fall of the Ba’ath party, the Iraqi government, following the recommendation of the country’s National Security Council, May 6th announced that all citizens from now on can keep a gun at home. The only restriction is that all weapons have to be registered at the nearest police station.
Many women’s organizations in Iraq are deeply concerned about the direction in which the country is heading, and what they see as a clear connection between a militarization of the society, an easy access to small arms and the escalating brutal violence against women.
Holds Prime Minister accountable
One of the organizations, Warvin, has previously reported on the connection between murdered women and guns being kept at home. When hearing about the new law they released a statement condemning it and holding the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki personally responsible for any new cases of women being murdered. ”It is a widely known fact that a government’s first responsibility is providing security and safety for its citizens and fulfill the rule of law in the country. (…) Instead of eradicating and collecting the weapon in Iraq to pave the way to exert the legal authority in the country, as one of the promises he made to people at the time of the election campaign, Maliki has turned his back to the law” the statement said.
Khanim Latif, ASUDA. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Campaign against guns
In the Kurdistan region, Iraq, several women’s organizations have joined forces in a campaign with the aim to get a ban on the private possession of small arms. By approving this new law, the government is signalling that issues of women’s security are not of any importance, says Khanim Latif at the women’s organization ASUDA.
- We were expecting a ban on possession of weapons, and for the government to start the process of eradicating and collecting the illegal weapons present in our society. We didn’t expect them to suddenly decide on a legalisation instead. This law represents a serious threat to all people in Iraq – especially women!
Meeting with the Parliament Speaker
ASUDA initiated the campaign, after a period of a drasticly increasing number of women getting killed by privately owned small arms. Naturally they are very concered about this new agenda.
- This law will most probably create instability and lead to a deteriorating security situation in Iraq. And it is likely that there will be an increase in incidents between different ethnic groups, which will lead to even more violence.
But the organizations are not giving up. May 9th they met with the Speaker of the Kurdistan region’s Parliament to discuss it and they will also advocate for the Iraqi government decision not to be carried out in the Kurdistan region.
One of the major questions is of course why Iraq is adopting this new weapon law right now? Ala Riani, coordinator for Iraq at the women and peace organization the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, elaborates:
- One of the suggestions is that by legalizing these weapons the government is legalizing the many militia groups that are active in the country. And most of them are said to be connected to Nouri al-Maliki.
In the last eight years 25 people, 13 of them women, in Israel, have been killed in their homes by guns handled by security guards. A study made by the organisation Isha L’Isha shows that employees of security companies take their guns with them home at the end of the working day, thereby exposing their families to great risks.
To reduce the number of weapons in the Israeli society, and to save lives, Isha L’Isha has launched the campaign The Gun on the Kitchen Table.
"The Gun on the Kitchen Table"-campaign hosts a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo: Isha L'Isha.
There are 440 registered security companies in Israel, and a number of unregistered ones.
90 000 people work within these companies as security guards. That equals around 3 per cent of the working force in the country. Many of them are armed. The total amount of guns in the Israeli society, other than those within the military, have increased heavily during the last 15 years.
- Israel is a militarised society through and through. There are armed security guards standing outside restaurants, companies, official buildings and schools and weapons are everywhere. Noone questions it, it’s wholly accepted. The guards are considered necessary for our safety, says Rela Mazali, campaign co-coordinator at Isha L’Isha.
- Our government has commissioned private companies to uphold the nations security and thereby given up the responsibility for how the work’s being managed. We don’t have any real supervision of all these security companies and their way of working.
Women at most risk
The campaign is focused on the problem with security guards bringing their guns into their homes and thereby putting their family members at risk.
- There aren’t any public debates on how weaponalised our society has become. We know that women are the ones most threatened by guns in the homes, but women’s safety is never part of the discussions on how to create a safe and secure Israel, says Rela Mazali.
After the occurance of several high profile violent crimes, involving guns from security guards, a law on regulation of guns was passed in 2008. It states that security companies are obliged to collect their employees guns at the end of the working day. But the law has not been implemented. According to the government it would be too expensive. The companies are said not to be able to afford creating safer routines for the handling of guns.
Meeting with politicians
Last December Rela Mazali, and other activists working with the campaign, had a meeting with the Parliament Committee on the Status of Women.
“Women’s safety is never part of the discussions on how to create a safe and secure Israel”
They presented their demands on the law on guns being put to use and security companies having to control their guns.
- It was a very positive meeting. The committee has now demanded of the government to implement the law within two months. We don’t think it will happen that soon, but it’s a good start, says Rela Mazali.
Besides working politically, the campaign also targets the general public. On the occassion of 25 November, the International day on violence against women, they held demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They have also produced a film on the issue, that is being distributed via social media.
- Our goal is to get a critical review of the militarisation of our society. We have to raise the awareness of how big a security threat small arms are. Since people have shown to be very ignorant of the problems with guns handled by security companies, we are hopeful that we can make them aware and gain their support, says Rela Mazali.
The Gun on the Kitchen Table is run by Isha L’Isha. The 2011 campaign was also joined by ten other women’s, human right and civil society organizations.